How does internal quality assurance impact employability?

10 May 2016

The following is part one in a series of articles on IIEP’s international research project focused on the exploration of innovative and effective internal quality assurance systems in universities around the world. IIEP will be publishing a series of eight case studies, which will soon be available online. The results will also be discussed at the upcoming IIEP Policy Forum from 9-11 June 2016 at the Xiamen University in China.

Universities around the world are tasked with managing their academic standards as well as the quality of their students’ learning opportunities and outcomes to best prepare them for life beyond graduation and employment. How this is handled internally is increasingly set by a series of tools and processes known as internal quality assurance (IQA). Two universities in particular, the Daystar University in Nairobi, Kenya and the American International University-Bangladesh in Dhaka have developed an IQA system that pays particular attention to employment prospects.

8 universities study their IQA systems

As part of a larger project led by the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP), the two universities have embarked on an in-depth study looking at how quality assurance policies and tools are perceived and used to improve quality and employability by a variety of key groups –academic and administrative staff, university leaders and students. The project has also looked at other facets of innovative and effective IQA systems in six other universities in Austria, Bahrain, Chile, China, Germany, and South Africa.

What is Internal Quality Assurance? 

IQA is the ongoing, continuous process of evaluating, monitoring and improving the quality of a higher education institution and its study programmes. A distinction is typically made between internal quality assurance (IQA) – whereby practices to improve the quality takes place within the university – and external quality assurance (EQA), which is often performed by a national agency, sometimes together with professional bodies or private providers of QA services.

Bangladesh: a growing demand for higher education 

During the early 1990s, the government of Bangladesh passed legislation to allow the private sector to establish and fund universities. With a rising demand for higher education, the public universities were reaching capacity and due to financial constraints, were unable to satisfy the social demand for access to higher education of the country’s rather young population. Two years after the Private University Act passed in 1992, the AIUB opened its doors with a mission to provide quality academic programmes primarily geared towards engineering, technology, and business. Improving career opportunities remains central to AIUB’s mission, and is reflected in its well-developed IQA.

School deans view IQA as ‘highly positive’

With support from the World Bank, the University Grants Committee (UGC) of Bangladesh has implemented a national quality assurance project. As part of this project, Internal Quality Assurance Cells (IQACs) are established in each of the universities. Prior to this, the AIUB had already requested accreditation for some of its study programmes from the Philippines Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities. Therefore, AIUB had already a set of strong IQA tools and processes in place, which have become a model for other universities across this densely populated country at the point in time, when quality assurance was introduced in all of them.
The study first investigated the awareness and involvement of staff in IQA, both regarded as a crucially important success factor for IQA, through the use of surveys, interviews, and focus groups. It also looked at IQA’s effect on teaching and learning, employability of graduates, and managerial effectiveness.

“Having an internal quality assurance programme at AIUB has enabled us to sustain the translation of the University’s vision and mission into quality and excellence in terms of actions, mechanisms and strategies,” said AIUB’s Vice-Chancellor Dr. Carmen Z. Lamagna and author of the study. “This has come in the form of self-assessments, external peer reviews through accreditation, audit and evaluation of its academic programs to determine the level of quality.”

Some of the IQA’s strongest features include the encouragement of collaboration between staff, alumni and corporate or industry stakeholders to obtain feedback and discuss the relevance of study programmes and their alignment with labour market needs. The University also organizes graduate tracer studies to follow the status of graduates after they leave AIUB, as well as providing career orientation and internship guidance for its students.

Stay tuned: final results of the study will be available soon on the IIEP website.

Kenya: shortening the road to employment

Graduates from higher education institutions in Kenya can take, on average, five years to secure a job, according to a 2014 tracer study organized by the British Council. However, students from the private Daystar University in Nairobi most often find a job within six months. A 2015 tracer study found that 51.9 per cent of graduates were employed within one year, and 17.3 per cent before leaving the University. Daystar’s IQA system is central to the University’s commitment to improving employment prospects and increasing overall quality.

University enrolment doubled between 2010 and 2013

Quality control and improvement is a major issue for many universities in Kenya, which have proliferated alongside a dramatic rise in enrolment over the past decade. With twice as many university students enrolled in 2013 than in 2010, the importance of a well-integrated and understood IQA systems has vastly increased.

As the case study shows, the development of an effective and beneficial IQA is feasible. “Given the competitive environment in which Kenyan universities operate, the future belongs to those that make genuine efforts to improve their IQA systems with a view to improve graduate employability, as shown in the case of Daystar,” the authors wrote.

Employer surveys key to quality

The study of Daystar revealed that employer surveys are the IQA’s system’s strongest feature in improving the employment prospects of Daystar graduates. The involvement of multiple stakeholders and particularly academic staff, employers and students boosted its impact at the departmental level. While this feature hasn’t been formalized at the institutional level, Mike Kuria, the study’s author and Director of Quality Assurance at the University, said, “This research helped us see the need for the university to channel more support into the IQA system through the departments precisely because of its contribution to graduate employability.”

The importance of student evaluations

The IQA system at Daystar includes a set of interrelated and mutually reinforcing tools. Most of its components relate to the enhancement of teaching and learning, as well as employability. One of the most interesting findings, according to Kuria, was that students found evaluations to be a strong contributor to employability because it improves the credibility of the university.

Kuria agrees, adding that an IQA instrument can have an unintended effect: “Perhaps what this means is that an IQA system is an interlinkage of different QA tools, practices and systems and perhaps none should be seen in isolation. Although different stakeholders are more inclined to different IQA tools, ultimately the employability of a graduate is determined by how closely the results of the differently IQA tools effectively feed into each other.”

A full case study on Daystar’s IQA system will be available soon on the IIEP website.